The 'Powerless' Consumer
Nowadays, consumers are constrained by accessibility and affordability from making the choices they want to make. The 'powerless' consumer exists throughout society and in part explains why climate inaction persists.
We now understand the threat of climate change. Ever-rising carbon emissions, unfathomable quantities of plastic pollution and the sheer abundance of food waste. Many of us are moved, yes, but most of us feel weighed down by the question of, "Where do I start?"
One avenue to explore is our consumer choices. We could ask ourselves... "As a consumer, what choices can I make to ensure a better world?"or "How can I avoid carbon products?"
Answers to those questions however are problematic. Most consumers do not have the time, the money or quite simply, the energy, to seek out better consumer choices.
Globally, people are working longer days with financial stipends remaining stagnant in comparison. They have less leisure time, less time to spend with loved ones, and less time to explore their passions. In fact, our generation of millennials are the first generation in Western countries to grow up knowing that our incomes will not be higher than our parents. Inter-generational progress has halted. More alarmingly, UK workers put in the longest hours in the EU (TUC Study 2018). In the economy of today, overwork, stress and exhaustion are ordinary. Long hours and low pay are accepted as the norm.
As consumers therefore we are helmed in and constrained, forced to opt for the easy choices; the plastic-filled products, the meat and dairy options, and the products that have travelled halfway across the world. Why? It's simple. Because of convenience. Because of the price. Because of the facility we encounter making these choices. Our choices at their heart are dictated and defined by accessibility and affordability. We therefore become 'powerless'.
Our powerlessness however has a dangerous consequence. Our inability to make the choices we want to make, little by little, triggers us to switch off and disengage. The guilt you might feel loitering at the Tesco aisle picking those plastic-wrapped bananas or buying cheap fast fashion from Boohoo slowly diminishes. We begin asking negative questions to ease our guilt. "What difference will I make I'm only one person?" "Surely, climate change can't be that bad?" "Who cares about climate change, I care more about (insert alternative)?" We tell ourselves,"I do not have the time or someone else will balance my choices out". We leave the climate issue to someone else or we relegate it in our list of priorities.
These individual everyday dilemmas collectively however, have impact. Our reluctance and powerlessness to make the right choices multiplied by millions results in widespread inaction. For example, what if voting in a democracy was made so hard that everyone decided it was just easier not to vote? Democracy would fall apart. Well, the same holds for climate action. Because so many of us encounter difficulty making the right choices, climate action falls apart.
This narrative is, of course, simplified; it overlooks the role of huge transnational corporations who play a massive role in coercing us to make the wrong choices each day; it overlooks the influence of marketing whereby advertisement constantly draws our consumer attention away from issues of sweatshop labour, environmental damage and worker rights; and it overlooks the significant vested interests of oil companies in maintaining the carbon-fuelled economic status quo.
Nonetheless, the feeling of powerlessness remains. Yet, we can rewrite the way we make choices. We can empower ourselves even if no one else is willing to. This ambition drives us at Scoop UK. At Scoop UK, we want to make a zero waste lifestyle as cheap as possible, as available as possible and fundamentally as accessible as possible.
In our Scoop stores, we strive to create an environment where consumers feel empowered to make the choices they want. That is the story of the consumer we want to tell. Not one of powerlessness but one of power. Not one of guilt but one of hope. Not one of damage but one of healing.
'Scoop aims to restore power to the consumer.'
Our impact is local-scale in university communities, sure, but our ambitions and ideals stretch far beyond. We believe in a just world where both workers and consumers receive a fair price. We believe in a world where the eight richest individuals (all men unsurprisingly..) do not own as much wealth globally as the bottom fifty percent. We believe in a world where we can tackle carbon emissions and improve human health, social mobility and racial equality at the same time.
It requires a big imagination, sure, but if the young do not dare to dream, who else will? At Scoop, we dare to dream that if we can open enough Scoop stores, we can change the consumption patterns of the current university students of today and future UK leaders of tomorrow. We dare to hope that by uniting our voices together, big national supermarkets will pay attention to their environmental footprint. We dare to imagine a world with little to no food waste and food security for all.
Join us in this ambition. Know someone at a university which does not already have a Scoop? Tell them about it. Make your voice heard. Add to our impact.
P.S. Curious why we chose a photo of Nestle's products (Nescafé) at the start of this article? Google 'Nestle Greenpeace' to find out more about Nestle's catastrophic environmental impact.
Scoop Durham Co-Founder and Scoop UK President.
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